Bertinotti 18 holes from LAAC win, Masters berth

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2016, 9:28 pm

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republican – Simmering with frustration after each missed putt down the stretch, Gaston Bertinotti unleashed a torrent of fist pumps Saturday when his 25-footer dropped on the final green.  

The Argentine’s main challenge Sunday will be keeping his emotions in check – after all, it’s only the most important round of his life.

In what likely was a preview for a nervy, dramatic final round at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course, Bertinotti limited his mistakes and shot a third-round 69 to take a one-shot lead over Jorge Garcia at the Latin America Amateur Championship. Alejandro Tosti is another shot behind.

“It’s awesome to be in the lead right now,” Bertinotti said, “but we still have to play 18 more holes.”

And with all that’s on the line – an invitation to the Masters, spots in final qualifying for the U.S. Open and Open Championship, global recognition – it figures to be a restless night in paradise.

Saturday’s action showed that no lead is safe at the Pete Dye masterpiece that is only growing firmer and faster by the hour.

Nicolas Echavarria, who took a three-shot lead heading into the weekend, gave it all back with a pulled tee shot into the rocks on the par-3 seventh. He plummeted out of the lead after the triple bogey, and he dropped two more shots coming home for a third-round 77. He is now three back.

“There’s still a chance,” he said, “so you have to be positive about it. Eighteen more holes to play the Masters.”

Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet surged into the lead with a tap-in eagle on 14, but the second-youngest player in the field (16) made a few poor decisions coming home, dropping four shots in the last four holes to sit four shots behind.

Chaplet’s critical miscue came with his tee shot on the par-4 15th. With the tee moved up, plenty of room left and the Caribbean Sea on the right, he made a “brain mistake” by taking an aggressive line off the tee with a 4-iron. His ball never had a chance to clear the hazard, leading to a triple bogey. Two holes later, he hit a screaming hook off the tee and seemed destined for another big number, but his ball ricocheted off a tree near the out-of-bounds stakes and he escaped with a bogey.

Playing with fellow countryman Alvaro E. Ortiz, who was openly rooting for his protégé despite a miserable third round, Chaplet curled in an 8-footer for par on the last to stay in the hunt. He walked off the green arm in arm with Ortiz.  

“I haven’t shot 82 in a long time,” Ortiz said afterward, “but it didn’t really feel too bad watching him play.”

Even with a cold putter, Garcia climbed the leaderboard Saturday with a 3-under 69, the lone bogey-free round and one of only five sub-70 scores.

“Today the golf course showed you can get eaten by it,” he said.  

The Venezuelan is arguably the most accomplished player in the field, and last month he won the South Beach International Amateur in his adopted hometown of Miami. Garcia, a freshman at Florida, was 9 when his home club, Los Chaguaramos, closed because of government politics. Three years later, he moved in with his aunt and cousin in the Magic City to pursue a golf career.

Garcia soon piled up junior titles and became one of the country’s top prospects, a stark contrast to the early career of Bertinotti, a late bloomer who was more interested in rugby than golf until the age of 13.

He started playing to beat his friends and finished last in his first national tournament. Still, the game “came to me pretty quick,” he said, a nod to his training at Las Delicias Campo de Golf in Argentina.

Bertinotti is from Cordoba, the same hometown of two-time major winner Angel Cabrera and PGA Tour player Andres Romero.

It was Romero who suggested that Bertinotti take a few deep breaths on the course whenever he felt nervous. Apparently, he was inhaling so loudly earlier this week that he drew the attention of one of his fellow playing competitors.

“I’m just trying to keep calm,” he said.

Indeed, Sunday’s final round figures to be as much a mental test as a physical examination.

Three of the last four holes are the toughest on the course, with the Caribbean Sea in play on both the drives and approach shots, and the pressure to win one of the biggest amateur titles in the world can be suffocating.

“All that pressure,” Bertinotti said, “it will show who is the best. It’s all about controlling your feelings. Everybody has emotions – you just have to try to keep them calm.”

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x